Qualcomm showed off one of the most exciting things in advanced drone technology recently at the Consumer Electronics show. The chipmaker has a newly upgraded Snapdragon Flight Drone Platform, which incorporates a real time “learning” capabilities. Qualcomm is the first to enable a drone to learn from its environment while it is actually in the air. Other platforms have incorporated AI technology, but it only allows for extremely simple tasks such as following a moving object or conversely avoid flying into an object. Snapdragon is more advanced in that not only does it enable the drone to avoid a collision, but it can also develop an alternative flight path without any additional input from a human operator. This raises the possibility of uses for drones substantially. For instance, they could be used in search and rescue operations in remote areas, flying through trees easily without the need for pre-mapped data or constant navigation instructions from a remote pilot. At the CES show, Qualcomm put together a set at its booth that resembled the inside of a cluttered warehouse, showing how its drone processing and decision-making technology is nimble enough to allow drones to operate indoors and in unpredictable settings without using any GPS. That is particularly important because GPS is nearly useless indoors, but drones could be very useful inside buildings. For example, conducting inspections after a fire or natural disaster. All of the drone’s computing, including machine learning and flight control, happens via the on-board processor. And remarkably, that on-board processor only weighs 12 grams, or less than a standard AAA battery! Keep in mind that Qualcomm only develops the chip technology, so it’s up to a drone manufacturer or service provider to now incorporate it into an actual UAV. Under FAA’s current guidelines, the tech may not be very practical as drones aren’t allowed to be flown outside an operators line of sight. However, that could change if the rule proves to be unnecessary in light of this type of advanced technology. It also is a major building block that’s been needed to advance truly autonomous drones that actually could zip through a crowded city. (Source: ReCode, Business Insider)
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded $975,000 to Kansas State University for work that incorporates unmanned aerial vehicles in the process of breeding better wheat varieties. The research is designed to give scientists deeper understanding of in-field conditions so they can improve breeding programs in the U.S. and internationally. As you well know, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, are quickly becoming recognized as a valuable tool for mapping agricultural crops. Kansas State University has been developing uses of UAVs to collect data on thousands of plots, including work in Kansas, Mexico and India. Understand the goal of this project is to deliver in-season yield prediction with models that combine genetic information from DNA sequencing and crop physiology that is gathered from UAV measurements on tens of thousands of breeding lines. Most of the grant money is expected to be used to build a database that will hold the information collected by UAVs collected from numerous wheat-breeding nurseries. According to K-State researchers, UAVs will provide millions of collected images that scientists will match with field values to develop a phenotype of wheat varieties. A phenotype is a complex map of an organism’s observable characteristics — such as its biochemical or physiological properties — and the influence of the environment on those characteristics. Scientists will use the phenotype to evaluate desired agronomic traits of wheat based on the UAV images at a speed and scale much faster and larger than what can be done by manual measurements. Ultimately, researchers are hoping this plot-level data will give wheat breeders real-time insights on crop performance that they can use to more precisely and quickly improve future varieties. Plant breeding is really a numbers game and new technologies like remote sensing with low-cost UAVs, help look at more varieties and increase the chances of finding ones that can become the next best varieties to release to farmers. NIFA made the award to Kansas State University through the International Wheat Yield Partnership. The project includes scientists from Washington University in St. Louis; Cornell University; and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, a network of 15 centers across the world that involves nearly 10,000 scientists, researchers, technicians and staff. (Source:K-State Research and Extension)
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With the holiday season now officially behind us we must turn the page and prepare for 2016. Below are few quick thoughts regarding some of the bigger headlines I suspect the trade will be chewing on in 2016.
- Energy Prices – Obviously oil continues to be the center of attention as prices tumble. Will there be contagion and fallout in 2016 and to what extent will we feel the pain? I personally suspect price may drift a bit lower, but will start to find much more stable ground as the world fully-digest maximum Iranian output and the fact Saudi Arabia is no longer willing to be the worlds swing supplier.
- U.S. Interest Rates – With the Fed deciding to raise interest rates for the first time in almost decade at the end of 2015, the trade is desperately trying to figure out the pace and strategy behind the Fed’s longer-term plan. How will it impact the direction of the U.S. dollar and will deflation or inflation ultimately be our enemy? The trade is currently debating the Fed’s next move with most insiders projecting anywhere from 2 to 4 small quarter point rates hikes in 2016.
- Chinese Math – With China predicted to grow at a rate below 7% for the first time since 1981, there will be renewed attention on Beijing’s economic policies. The government’s plan for 2016 is to implement supply-side reforms, which includes reducing industrial overcapacity, lowering business costs and reducing the unsold real estate inventory. Much of the oversupply in both the manufacturing and real estate sectors stems from policies designed to promote growth. Obviously to rebalance the supply-demand picture, a major shift will need to take place in moving from manufacturing-based to consumption-based. Such a major change will obviously take time and the country’s economic situation is expected to get worse before it gets better.
- 2016 U.S. Presidential Election – I suspect election headlines will start to take center stage during the second and third quarter of 2016. Will it be Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio or a sleeper from within the field? The banks and the markets seem a bit nervous about the outcome and I suspect more extreme market volatility could ensue as the political polls swing.
- The European Union – Europe’s migration crisis has clearly divided the continent. With the massive debt loads rising and terrorist activity escalating, the trade is eager to see if European leaders can keep all the pieces of the puzzle glued together. Britain may provide the first test, as voters in the country could decide as early as June whether they want to leave the EU.
- ISIS – Will global powers be able to dismantle the ISIS movement or will the world become more fearful of their terrorist activity? The U.S., British, French, Russian and Saudi Arabian militaries continue to use air attacks against ISIS, but many experts warn that its not enough. Many are pressing for ground troops, including some U.S. lawmakers. I suspect we see these headlines escalate and intensify in 2016.
- Gun Control – President Obama is said to be planning to bypass Congress and use his executive powers to implement tougher U.S. gun control laws. Details of what steps he plans to take have not been released, but they could include tightened background checks, classifying more gun sellers as high-volume dealers and instituting stricter rules for reporting lost or stolen guns. Any new rules will undoubtedly face legal challenges but Obama has made it clear that the issue is a main focus of his last year in office.
- La Nina – As El Nino begins to retreat, international forecasters will be left with the difficult task of trying to predict the strength and appearance of the “sister” phenomenon, La Nina. This weather event often follows El Nino and pretty much has the exact opposite effect on global weather patterns. In other words it could bring drier weather to North and South America, while increasing rainfall in Australia, Indonesia and Central America. The last La Nina was confirmed in the summer of 2010, and the event has followed 11 of the last 15 El Ninos. This is obviously a headline the ag world will be giving close attention.
- Artificial Intelligence – Computers are becoming increasingly more powerful, to a point that some are now able to “learn”. What is the ultimate result of “super-intelligence” that can theoretically gain and amass all the knowledge available in the world, but without the underlying values or emotions of human beings? Steven Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk all count themselves among the crowd that is worried about how artificial intelligence plays itself out…pay attention!
- Gene Editing – The new gene editing method known as CRISPR/CAS9 makes gene editing much easier and cheaper than ever before. It holds great promise in treating severe genetic diseases, but also raises a huge amount of controversy. How could such manipulation ultimately impact the human genome? Without a clear answer to that, is it “irresponsible” to use the technology, no matter the immediate benefits? With the technology becoming increasingly available at the commercial level, it’s an emotionally charged issue that is moving into the mainstream debate.
Network TV is in big trouble — viewership of broadcast TV shows on the big four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) among 18-to-49-year-olds is down 25% from last year. According to Nielsen data and shown in the chart below, Americans 12 to 34 are spending a lot fewer hours watching “traditional” TV than they were four years ago. The steepest drop is among 12 to 17-year olds: In 2011, they were watching about 25 hours of live TV a week. Now, they’re watching only 15. What are they doing instead? Recording shows and watching them later, watching them via on-demand services like Netflix and Apple TV, or skipping TV shows altogether and watching other video on their phones in apps like YouTube, Facebook, or Snapchat. (Source: Business Insider)
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